Australia is ill-prepared, ill-equipped and neglectful when it comes to protecting its borders from a multitude of devastating new weeds, diseases and invasive animals, a federal Senate inquiry has found.
“A nine-month Senate inquiry has revealed that Australia is failing dismally to keep new invasive species out of the country,” Invasive Species Council CEO Andrew Cox said today.
“This was exemplified in the inquiry’s case studies of the deadly plant pathogen myrtle rust, which has spread throughout Australia’s eastern seaboard, and tramp ants such as the highly invasive red fire ants and yellow crazy ants that have repeatedly arrived through our ports.
“The report, which received bipartisan support, reveals that our response efforts are commonly hampered by delays in initial detections, delays in obtaining and maintaining funding, and incomplete implementation of threat abatement plans.
“Claims by the federal departments of agriculture and environment to the inquiry that environmental biosecurity is ‘well managed’ have been exposed as a fantasy.”
When asked to list priority biosecurity threats facing the environment, the agricultural department was unable to list more than six, and yet a Senate committee found that ‘incursions by exotic organisms with the potential to harm Australia’s natural environment are a regular occurrence’.
It also found that ‘pathway and risk analyses undertaken by the Department of Agriculture have not adequately addressed species of environmental concern’.
The inquiry also expressed concerns over declining numbers of biosecurity staff, especially in northern Australia, and deteriorating research capacity.
“Missing from the consensus report was support for a body to coordinate efforts for environmental biosecurity preparedness – similar to that for the agricultural sector. No credible alternative was proposed to address this serious gap, except in the minority report of the Greens,” Mr Cox said.
“The report identified major quarantine failings, including biofouling of marine vessels, illegal seeds making it into Australia through the postal system, tramp ants arriving in the country on cargo, exotic bird and ornamental fish imports.
“This bipartisan report is credible, compelling and extremely worrying.”
The Invasive Species Council has now called on agricultural and environment ministers as well as state and territory biosecurity ministers to immediately address the report’s recommendations.
“We commend the members of the committee for their unanimous report and its 26 recommendations, which, if implemented, will greatly improve Australia’s capacity to protect its unique wildlife and ecosystems from invasive species,” Mr Cox said.
“This report will help move environmental biosecurity towards the more focused approach of agricultural biosecurity.”
Andrew Cox on 0438 588 040.
Summary of unanimous report recommendations (26 recommendations in total)
- Inspector General of Biosecurity to review high-risk environmental biosecurity concerns, including gaps in pathway and risk analyses.
- Improve decision-making in the national eradication response agreement.
- Update the 25-year-old northern Australia Quarantine strategy.
- Develop a national priority list of pests and diseases of environmental biosecurity concern not yet established in Australia.
- Review resources directed to invasive species threat abatement.
- Establish a taxonomic identification service similar to New Zealand.
- Take legal action against internet retailers and sites that repeatedly breach plant and seed import requirements.
- Address the decline in scientific expertise related to biosecurity and to species identification.
- Review cargo surveillance measures to better detect invasive species, especially tramp ants.
- Harmonise protocols for plant sales and weed identification.
- Develop a national database of seized exotic wildlife.
- Create a mandatory marine biofouling management regime.
- Improve border surveillance for freshwater fish imports.
- Establish a national framework for managing biosecurity on Australia’s islands.
Greens minority report recommendations (eight recommendations in total)
- Establish and fund Environment Health Australia (EHA) with public funding at least equivalent to similar industry bodies.
- EHA to rank priority threats, develop contingency plans, review recent incursions.
- Review eradication of the smooth newt near Melbourne.
- Create an independent biosecurity agency.
- Fund eradication of yellow crazy ants from the Wet Tropics at $1.3 million a year over 10 years.
Senate inquiry members
- Senator Anne Urquhart, Chair – Labor, Tasmania
- Senator Anne Ruston, Deputy Chair – Liberal, South Australia
- Senator Joe Bullock – Labor, Western Australia
- Senator James McGrath – Liberal, Queensland
- Senator the Hon Lisa Singh – Labor, Tasmania
- Senator Larissa Waters – Greens, Queensland